From the day I met Egon Guttman, I admired his knowledge, his humor, and his kindness.
After I told lawyers I’d practiced with, and then other academics, that I’d joined the faculty of the American University Washington College of Law, many of them said, “Oh, so you’re working with Egon Guttman now—please give him my regards.” I saw very quickly how widely and well he was respected.
I could always rely on Egon’s insights, advice, and perspective– about teaching, writing, the law and legal practice, religion, history, literature, or something in the day’s news.
He had plenty of what in Yiddish is called “sechel” (loosely translated, practical wisdom), and even more “rachmonos” (compassion). Beyond his mastery of business (and particularly of securities) law, Egon was committed to the protection of consumers, investors, and debtors.
Like Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard (played by David McCallum) on “NCIS,” Egon had been a lot of places and done a lot of things, and always had a personal or historical story to help explain something.
But I think he was actually even more like another television character— the high-performance high school music teacher Benjamin Shorofsky (Albert Hague) in the 1980s show (and movie) “Fame,” who went beyond teaching technicalities to inspire in students a true passion for his subject, and to help develop their own maturity and humanity.
Years ago, I heard, Egon made it a practice to walk through our law library during the stress of exam periods: to reassure students, to answer any questions, and, just by being there, to show that he respected and supported them and their efforts.
Like Dr. Mallard and Mr. Shorofsky, but in real life, Egon was “old school” in the best sense of that term, and both a chochem (wise person) and a mensch (gentleman).
During the years I worked with him, I heard many stories from, and some about, Egon. I thought the very best one came a few years ago, when we were talking about how synagogues traditionally present siddurim (prayer-books) to members of the congregation observing their bar or bat mitzvah.
Egon mentioned that a rabbi had consulted him about the best siddur to give on such an occasion. He had recommended, he said, that the rabbi select one that included prayers not only for services with the congregation but also for the newly-responsible young man or woman to say with family, and by himself or herself.
As usual, Egon was interested in doing, and in teaching and helping other people to do, “the right thing”—not just in public, where everyone can see it, but in the privacy of their own homes and hearts.
I was always proud to call myself a colleague of Egon Guttman.
I will always be even prouder to have been able to call Egon Guttman my friend.
May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.